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Pirates! Danger!!! High Seas Adventure! (By Elizabeth Burke) April 23, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.

Ahoy Matey! Shiver me timbers, pirates are in the news again.

For the first time in 200 years, pirates boarded an American ship. The ship, called the Maersk Alabama, is actually Dutch-owned, but it carries US Government cargo and, as such, must be registered as American and travel with an American crew.

When attacked, those feisty, tough American sailors disabled the ship and turned the tables on the scaliwags after an aborted hostage swap. “Captain Awesome” Richard Phillips, from Underhill, VT, gave himself up to secure the lives of his crew. He was immediately taken hostage, lowered into a lifeboat (later to be found disabled) and ferried out into the ocean with guns pointed at his head. America, hungry for the ripped-from-the-pages-of-a-Tom-Clancy-novel-tale, sat on the edge of its collective seat.

With the US Navy racing to the rescue in the US Destroyer Bainbridge, circling the Mearsk Alabama like a giant steel shark; the P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft flying overhead; Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force, the FBI all involved in the stand-off (!), I kept waiting for Tom Cruise to come dangling off a Black Hawk Helicopter, scoop up Captain Richard Phillips from the tiny lifeboat bobbing in the ocean and hand him safely into the arms of his weeping and grateful wife. Roll Credits!

Certainly, this was my take on the high-seas madness unfolding earlier this month.

Two worlds – this one and my theoretically pacifist one – diametrically opposed, collided as I read the paper on my daily subway ride , taking in every detail of the latest Somali pirate attack.

Make no mistake, these modern day pirates of the Somali Coast are very armed and very dangerous. They act like a pseudo high-tech militia and often dress in military fatigues. They operate GPS systems and satellite phones to coordinate attacks from small, fast speedboats attached to a larger mothership.

The pirates use rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank rocket launchers and automatic weapons to capture large, slow-moving vessels like the 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama, which was carrying food aid from USAID and other agencies to help malnourished people in Uganda and Kenya.


For God’s sake, they attacked a ship on a humanitarian mission bringing food to starving people.

Have they no shame?

This isn’t like the Saudi oil tanker they got last month. This is a ship with a heart, doing good deeds, keeping people alive. I have no doubt the pirates missed that irony.

But perhaps the biggest irony, completely missed by these privateers, is the name of the very tanker that was their ultimate undoing. The USS Bainbridge is named after Commodore William Bainbridge, a naval officer who played an important role in eliminating the pirates that plagued shipping off the African coast over 200 years ago.

According to the watchdog group the International Maritime Bureau, since January 2009, pirates have staged 66 attacks, six in just one week, and they are still holding 14 ships and 260 crew members as hostages. There were 111 attacks in 2008, and more than half that number have already occurred in the first four months of this year. Hauls from those attacks covered payment for that Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian ship loaded with military tanks, both of which were later released.

The stakes are high. Last year, pirates made off with about $80 million in ransom money, making this the most lucrative industry in Somalia. There is very little risk to the pirates, as most ship owners are more than willing to shell out the cash in exchange for the lives of the crew.

It’s simply good business. What merchant marine is going to sign up to work for a company that would allow them to be killed over cargo? Yet, daily, ships need to sail. Goods need to be delivered. And crews are needed to run the ships. For those involved, it’s just another day at the office. These companies would rather pay out a few million than risk losing business because they can’t get a crew to sail.

Except the Americans. We are having none of this. You attack one of ours, and IT IS ON! Americans do not make deals with kidnappers, and we do not make deals with pirates. Payoffs would only stand to fund further thievery and kidnapping .

The pirates did not expect the heroic crew to fight back and re-take the ship. They did not expect the Captain to offer himself up.   A sailor who spoke to the Associated Press said the entire crew had been taken hostage but managed to seize one pirate and then successfully negotiate their own release.

Yay! I love American moxie and that kind of take charge, EFF you spirit. The crew pretended to surrender, a family member told CNN. When the pirates let down their guard, Big Mistake, the Americans jumped them, overpowering them with sheer force and tricks learned from the ship’s second in command, Captain Shane Murphy – whose father, Captain Joseph Murphy, just happens to be a pirate-attack expert at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. What luck!

The Captain, truly heroic, offered himself as a hostage to secure the safety of his 20-man crew, whereupon he quickly found himself in a boat with 4 heavily armed, battle-tested pirates, adrift and out of fuel. Unlike the captain, these men had nothing to lose.

Because the waters off the Somali coast are infested with these roaches of the sea, NATO already has five warships in the Gulf of Aden and is planning to deploy a permanent flotilla to the region this summer. According to the Huffington Post, the Navy said it would take 61 ships to control the shipping route in the Gulf of Aden, which is just a fraction of the 1.1 million square miles where the pirates have operated. A US backed international anti-piracy coalition currently has 12 to 16 ships patrolling the region at any one time.

Along the Somali coastline, an area roughly as long as the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, pirate crews have successfully held commercial ships hostage for days or weeks until they were ransomed. In the past week, pressured by naval actions off Somalia, the pirates have shifted their operations farther out into the Indian Ocean, expanding the crisis.

This expanding pirate territory will make it even more difficult to patrol, and with US legal authority limited in International waters, it is unclear how much we can actually do to prevent these attacks. That is why we had to strike hard and fast. I’m no pirate-fighting mastermind, but what choice did we have?

It’s the US Freaking Navy for crying out loud. We have all those sexy Navy Seals and *sigh* Army Delta Force men swarming the decks on the US Destroyers itching to get in the fight. I could only imagine their muscles twitching under their tight black t-shirts, crew cuts all a-bristle, ready for action. Ahhh….

Then, with 3 perfectly aimed shots, in the dark of night, on bobbing water, it was over.

The Pirates fatally underestimated the skill, patience, and pure nerve of three Masters of the (my) Universe, the US Navy SEALs! Not only did the FBI successfully negotiate to allow the tiny doomed lifeboat to be towed by the Bainbridge, the boat was surrepticiously towed even closer so my new He-Men Heroes could have a better chance of safely taking the pirates out without causing the death of Captain Phillips.

Unbelievable! Really! This was the shot in the arm we all needed. Something this whole country can feel good about. You would have to be truly black-hearted to see any criticism of the Administration, the military or the choices made to use killing force.

Finally, the Maersk Alabama, with the crew on board, but still missing their Captain, got on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, its original destination, to fulfill their humanitarian mission of feeding starving nations.

While the crew continued their mission in Kenya, the high seas negotiations got underway. And as we all know now, it ended in mythic, movie-like purity: 3 shots fired, 3 pirates dead, and 1 pirate on the way to New York City for the first pirate trial in well over 200 years.

Stung by the ease in which we got our ship and crew back safely, the Somali pirate community has called for an all out war with any ship hoisting the US flag. So the stakes are now higher than ever.

On Tuesday, April 14th, the Liberty Sun, a US flagged cargo ship bound for Mombasa, Kenya, was attacked by Somali pirates, according to a NATO source with direct knowledge of the matter.

And, following the tough stance the US has taken with the high-seas hijackers, it now seems the rest of the world has decided to stand up to these brutish invaders and fight back.

According to CNN reports, Canadian and British vessels are on NATO patrol to prevent a second hijacking of a Norwegian ship that the Pirates captured after a seven-hour chase, but then released. There is currently no formal procedure for HYPERLINK “http://topics.edition.cnn.com/topics/NATO” NATO personnel to follow once they have apprehended pirates. Their weapons are confiscated and they are then typically given provisions and released. But it’s a start.

As more countries decide not to play into the greedy hands of these despicable people, the tensions and level of danger will be raised.

So, this story has not ended, nor has my fascination. I will be coming back to these tales of high seas hijinks in the coming months. Meanwhile, my thoughts and prayers are with the heroic Captain Phillips, his family and the entire Kick ASS American crew of the Maersk Alabama. And also, of course, with those unnamed Navy SEALs who will be playing a starring role in my dreams for nights to come.



1. Topics about America » Archive » Whereupon he told me, what did the work to do - April 23, 2009

[…] Pirates! Danger!!! High Seas Adventure! (By Elizabeth Burke … […]

2. Bri - April 23, 2009

Hey Doll, While the US of A has Moxie while out n’ about, our court system is soft on certain things like the death penalty, and expediting such. We’d have alot less crime, and more cahones globally if a harsher stance were taken as policy for such BS like this Pi Rat fellow, and GW & Dick’s war crimes…. I say get out your gibbet America! Enough is ENOUGH!!! As for arming everybody that NEEDS to be…like somebody onboard these boats, Air Marshals & pilots, , and peeps that NEED to protect others and goods RESPONSIBLY, then maybe we just have to go there in these times…it’s a dangerous place out there, and well, if you have to be Gengis Khan in some places in order to be humanitarian in others, well, so be it…that’s my thought & I’m sticking to it! ALTHOUGH, I’m not too crazy about all the AMMO that has been sold in the last 2 months…. that’s abit scary for sure!

3. CatrinkaS - April 23, 2009

Aaarg. Well done, conveying your piratey passions. It’s as if you know these battlers-of-pirates!

4. Claudia Dulmage - April 24, 2009

Great stuff, Elizabeth! Denny loves yours blogs, too! BTW, did you catch Conan, I think, who quipped about those amazing Navy Seals, skillfully picking off three pirates without any harm at all to………..the parrots on their shoulders!!??? ; – )

5. Liz Burke - April 24, 2009

I am quite besotted with the SEALs! They would never hurt a harmless parrot! The parrots are pawns in all this. Did you watch South Park episode this week? They run away to Somalia to become pirates. Great stuff! Hi Dennis!!!!!

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